"Many people don't realize that tire traction diminishes when temperatures drop below 45 degrees," said Roger Fournier, regional vice president for Discount Tire, the largest independent tire and wheel retailer in the U.S. "When cold weather sets in, motorists with standard all-season tires are less equipped to avoid accidents and stay on the road."
For many drivers, winter tires prove the safest bet. While all-season tires offer little traction and can pick up materials in their treads, winter tires maintain rubber-to-road contact.
Winter tread patterns have thousands of extra gripping edges called "sipes," which increase cold-weather traction, control and overall road safety. Winter tires are manufactured to stay flexible in cold weather, helping them maintain better road adherence in temperatures below 45 degrees F.
Winter tires also offer drivers increased control in icy conditions. Braking distance becomes shorter and safer. A winter tire can decrease braking distance by as much as 10 percent, depending on speed and road conditions.
Using winter tires can make all-wheel drive vehicles more effective, too. "Many drivers believe they can get by if they have all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive vehicles," said Fournier. "Those features are only as capable as the traction provided by the tires, since the tires are the only thing between the car and the road."
Winter tires typically cost the same amount as all-season tires but can provide priceless safer handling. As with all tires, winter tires perform best when properly inflated. A 10-degree drop in temperature causes tires to lose one pound of air pressure, so in addition to a once-monthly check, test your air pressure after frosts.